February 4, 2023
At Georgia, Alumna Abe aims to bring her team back to glory
'Georgia will be back on top very soon'
On March 26, 2022, Diamond Battles and Brittney Smith were driving to the mall in Orlando, Florida, when Battles opened Twitter to find shocking news: their coach was leaving. The first word’s out of Smith’s mouth were, “Is this true?”
Just three days after the surprising announcement that Joni Taylor was leaving the University of Georgia for Texas A&M, it was announced that alumna Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who most affectionately referred to as “Abe,” would be leading the Bulldogs.
And to Miller and Smith, who had just spent four years at the University of Central Florida (UCF), hearing that the woman who recruited them was leaving was an opportunity.
Abrahamson-Henderson was a Bulldog from 1986 to 1988 before finishing her playing career in her home state of Iowa. Soon after her college career, she moved to coaching, ping-ponging around the country as an assistant coach before taking her first head coaching job at Missouri State in 2002. After five years of success in Missouri, leading to an unexpected resignation and a couple of years back as an assistant, Abe took over the head coaching job at the University of New York in Albany and revolutionized them into a winning program.
In 2016 Abe was hired by UCF, transforming the previous season’s seven wins to 21. And by the time she left, UCF were conference champions, nationally ranked for the first time in school history, and regular March Madness participants.
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“I don’t think anybody knew this [Georgia] job was going to open up…We came back from the NCAA Tournament and the next day, a lot of phone calls were coming in,” Abrahamson-Henderson said in October at SEC Media Day. “It was a really, really hard decision for me… [to leave UCF]. It’s just Georgia is a very special community in terms of I played there and, obviously, Andy Landers.”
And since Abrahamson-Henderson committed to Athens in March, she said she’s been having “fun” putting the pieces together. First, she brought over assistant coaches Tahnee Balerio, Isoken Uzamere, Nykesha Sales and Ebone Henry-Harris. And along with the coaching staff, she brought this year’s leading scorer, Battles, post-staple Smith, and Alisha Lewis.
“Being around the staff for four years, it was like home. It was like I was around my mother. I was getting ready to have new sisters, to build relationships,” Battles told The Next. “It was kind of like recruiting all over again. It kind of felt fun because I was actually being recruited by her so I played it like I didn’t want to come, but it was kind of obvious that I was coming.”
Along with the UCF newness, Abe built her team around the transfer portal, additionally bringing in Audrey Warren, De’Mauri Flournoy and Kari Niblack, along with four freshmen. Much of this was a necessity as seven players and three recruits left Athens, many following coach Taylor or joining other SEC squads.
“Coming here, I feel like we had to rebuild a culture from student-athletes that had so many different coaching styles,” Abrahamson-Henderson told The Next. “When we came here there was the former players that were here, the UCF players that I brought, the transfers we bought in, the four high school players. So you got so many different philosophies.”
Although Abe revels in the challenge, she attributes the newness to a bit of a slow start for the Dawgs.
UGA is 15-9 overall and 4-6 in conference play. Although most of their wins are pretty dignified since SEC play began, they have dropped games to Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and much below them in the rankings: Texas A&M.
But since their tight loss to a Texas A&M team on Jan. 22, the Bulldogs have come out fiery. They handily beat Missouri on Jan. 26, nearly doubled Mississippi State’s score on Jan. 29, and lost by just five to No. 3 LSU in a gritty overtime battle in Baton Rouge.
Four-year Georgia senior Javyn Nicholson told the media that their losses are often mental.
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“We took a couple Ls that we kind of got the best of ourselves,” Nicholson said after their MSU win. “This gives us confidence just showing us what we need to do and how we can continue to win games.”
And although Abe says it took a while for her team to gel, she assured that everyone has bought in and they’re figuring out how to work together, and it’s clear the team’s identity lies in grittiness and defensive dominance.
“I would say it’s just a lot more intense [than last year] and we play with a lot of fire in our belly. I think that we just want to win and we will say we’ll do whatever it takes to win,” four-year Georgia forward Jordan Isaacs told The Next. “I think Abe’s culture is to do all the little things like getting loose balls, getting rebounds, boxing out, playing hard and playing for each other…I think that’s the biggest difference in the culture now.”
Abe is only the third-ever Georgia women’s basketball coach and consistently cites her Georgia coach, Hall of Famer Andy Landers, who brought Georgia seven SEC Championships and over 30 NCAA Tournament appearances, as the inspiration behind her philosophy and Georgia pride.
“I know who this women’s basketball program was built by and how much work he put into getting this program where it was, it’s kind of like Kelly [Harper] at Tennessee,” Abe said. “That’s what I learned from Andy. We’re gonna fight all the time, and we’re gonna be tough and we’re gonna jump on loose balls. We’re gonna play together, and we’re gonna have high energy, and we’re gonna be fearless and we’re going to be relentless and that’s the culture I’m trying to bring.”
Illustrated from the glow her players have when speaking about her, from SEC Media Day to now, Georgia has bought in on Abe.
"It really gives us confidence to see her come back (@COACH_ABE) to where she played and how she takes so much pride in the Georgia brand and Georgia Basketball." – @battles_diamond pic.twitter.com/aC6gO8l6Lj— Georgia Basketball 🏀🐶 (@UGA_WBB) January 29, 2023
“She’s just very special. … It really gives us confidence to see her come back to where she played at, and she takes so much pride in the Georgia brand and Georgia basketball,” Battles said after the MSU win. “Just playing for a coach who believes in you and has as much grit and determination as you, it’s fun to play with.”
And from Athens’ perspective, there is no ceiling for how far this team could go.
“The sky’s the limit. Moving forward, just seeing the people she’s brought us and what Abe’s done, the sky is the limit,” Isaacs said. “Georgia will be back on top very soon.”
Written by Gabriella Lewis
Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.
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